Sentencing in Ireland is, not to put too fine a point on it, a sick joke:

“A father who raped his adult special needs daughter while her mother was terminally ill in hospital has been jailed for seven years.

The 66-year-old Munster man, who cannot be identified in order to protect his daughter’s identity, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the rape and sexual assault of his daughter on two dates during one week in 2016.

Mr Justice Michael White said these offences were “an egregious breach of trust” as the accused man’s daughter was a person with special needs who was incapable of living alone and he had a particular duty of care to her.

He noted another aggravating factor was the timing of the offences while her mother, with whom the woman had a special bond, was in hospital. He said the accused man had suffered sexual abuse himself and would have been aware of the pain and suffering he was inflicting on his daughter.

In mitigation he took into account the man’s guilty plea which he said was particularly important because of the special needs of his daughter. He noted the man’s remorse and the fact he was now in ill health. He said the man came from a background of childhood neglect and abuse.”

Where to start?

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, absurdly lenient sentence for such a crime in Ireland. The news archives of the past decade are littered with cases of rape, sexual abuse, and other heinous crimes which end in a conviction, and a measly sentence for the perpetrator.

This man’s daughter, already disabled, will spend the remainder of her life with the scars inflicted upon her by her father, a crime committed while her own mother was dying. The father, meanwhile, will serve a maximum of seven years, assuming (and it is not a safe assumption) that he is not paroled early.

It has not always been like this. In 1997, in a very similar case, a man who raped his daughter was given 17 years:

“A STEWARD at Knock shrine who subjected his adopted daughter to a “reign of terror” of rape and physical abuse has been jailed for 17 years. In the Central Criminal Court yesterday Mr Justice Carney said the man had outwardly been “a paragon of virtue” in his community.

Apart from his work in Knock, he had also been a minister of the Eucharist, an organiser of camps for the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and an organiser of swimming instruction for children. He had also been a long standing member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, said Mr Justice Carney.

“Having seen the daughter on the television link, I believe the only way I could assuage her terror is to impose a sentence of life imprisonment,” he said.”

Meanwhile, in the USA this summer, an Ohio man who raped his daughter was sentenced to prison for 45 years. Given that he is 55 years old now, it is likely, and right, that he will never see the light of day again.

Why has sentencing in Ireland become so lenient?

In part, it’s because of an ideological move away from the idea of using prison as a punishment, and towards the idea that anybody, no matter how heinous their crime, can be rehabilitated. In part, it is because of a chronic shortage of space in prisons:

“The annual Prison Service report paints a bleak picture. The number of prisoners has risen for the first time in seven years and now stands at 3,981. Overcrowding has become an issue at six prisons, including the Dóchas Centre for women. Hundreds of gang members have been imprisoned, but continue to operate. Fearful prisoners who owe money for drugs within their communities apply for protective lock-up, which may limit their out-of-cell time to three hours a day.”

If overcrowding is an issue, the solution is straightforward: build more prisons.

The notion of depriving an individual of their liberty and freedom has its roots in the belief that not only is it a punishment, but that it is also an essential protection for the rest of us. A man who would rape his own disabled daughter first of all deserves as a matter of justice never to walk freely on our streets again, and, perhaps more importantly, cannot be trusted to behave decently if granted that freedom.

A Judge who does not recognise that is not fit for the job he is paid to do.

This is one area where the Americans have it right, and Ireland has gotten it very, very, very wrong.